After Tawny Kitaen’s death in May 2021, her face was suddenly all over the Internet. But if it weren’t for her unforeseen demise, not many people would be thinking about her (besides, obviously, her friends and family). As sad as it is for her to have lost her life suddenly at the age of 59 (to which there is still no official cause of death), it does, however, give us an opportunity to look back at who she was and how she contributed to the music scene in the 1980s.
Kitaen was known for her role in the 1984 movie Bachelor Party (alongside Tom Hanks), but it was her iconic roles in music videos for the band Whitesnake that turned her into an ’80s sex symbol. Being married to the band’s frontman gave her a pretty good foot in the door.
Kitaen was married to Whitesnake’s lead singer, David Coverdale, from 1989 to 1991. She was later married to baseball player Chuck Finley from 1997 until 2002, which gave rise to not only headlines but lawsuits and jail time. Kitaen may have been an icon in the ‘80s, but her life before and after the MTV era wasn’t as glamorous.
Kitaen was born in 1961 in San Diego, California. She adopted the nickname “Tawny” at the age of 12. This was also around the time she learned she had dyslexia, which influenced her education – or lack thereof. She went to Mission Bay High School in San Diego but had to leave due to health issues. That’s when she got into modeling and acting.
Kitaen banked on her looks to make a move into the entertainment industry. After dropping out of school, she managed to land some insignificant roles in films and TV shows. For instance, she was on the game show To Tell the Truth in 1976. By the time the ‘80s rolled around, she was making waves in the music and entertainment scene.
She was soon to be married to Whitesnake’s David Coverdale, which provided her with the opportunity to appear in the band’s music videos, like The Deeper the Love, Here I Go Again, Is This Love, and Still of the Night. Those appearances turned Kitaen into one of the decade’s numerous sex symbols.
Those music videos also helped her get better acting roles. In 1983, she landed a minor role in the TV movie Malibu. The following year, she got a role as the main character in the erotic-adventure film called The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak. It was also the same year that she co-starred in Bachelor Party.
Kitaen played Debbie Thompson, Tom Hank’s bride-to-be. Playing opposite Tom Hanks is a pretty good sign that you’re going in the right direction. And she was. The blossoming actress then portrayed Linda Brewster in the horror movie Witchboard in 1986. The ‘80s weren’t the only years that she acted in films…
Kitaen made some appearances in the ‘90s and ‘00s as well. She was in the 1997 horror movie Dead Tides with wrestler Roddy Piper. There was also Happy Hour in 2002, Too Cool in 2009, and Naked After Midnight in 2014. In recent years, Kitaen is better known for her appearances on reality TV shows like The Surreal Life and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.
But let’s be honest – it was her Whitesnake appearance in Here I Go Again that most people remember Tawny Kitaen for. Even though she was on the cover of Ratt’s first album (Out of the Cellar), appeared on Seinfeld, and in a Tom Hanks movie, her defining role took place on the hoods of two white Jaguars…
The unforgettable Tawny Kitaen moment that created a fixed image in the public consciousness happened in 1987, when she appeared in the video for Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again. She was dating David Coverdale at the time (they married two years later). The truth is, the videos Coverdale put her in made her more famous than he was.
Kitaen hit the ground running on her first Whitesnake video… literally. The very first image from the Here I Go Again video is of Kitaen cartwheeling from the hood of a white Jaguar XJ to that of a black Jaguar XJ in a white robe. How could anyone forget that?
From there, the video cuts between images of Whitesnake lip-syncing to their song, Kitaen twisting around the hoods of these two cars, and the couple driving around town with absolutely no regard for their own safety.
I mean, her body is flailing out of the passenger window – either that or she’s making out with Coverdale and distracting him from driving. The video ends, of course, with her pulling him into the backseat of the car. If there’s a moral to the story, it’s that Tawny Kitaen doesn’t care much about car safety.
Despite the fact that there was a tiny moment of an exposed nipple, Kitaen remained remarkably clothed for a traditional ‘80s metal video. That’s not to say teenaged boys weren’t drooling over her in their bedrooms.
“Even by the exceedingly high standards of models, actresses and video vixens, Kitaen was extraordinarily beautiful,” Nathan Rabin, a pop culture writer, wrote in a recent tribute. “But she was more than beautiful. She was luminescent. The camera loved her. She had that ineffable X factor that makes someone a star. She had swagger. She radiated sex and life.”
The Here I Go Again video has apparently been viewed 97 million times (and counting) on YouTube. On YouTube, Kitaen will be forever young, flexible, and hanging out of a moving Jaguar. Her image in the video is iconic, but the thing is, she wasn’t even the original choice to play the leading lady in the video.
“Claudia Schiffer was supposed to be the ‘Whitesnake woman,’ when she was the Guess Jeans girl,” Coverdale revealed to Heavy Consequence in 2019. Schiffer is gorgeous, of course, but in the video director’s eyes, the frontman’s then-girlfriend Tawny was perfect for the part.
Coverdale explained that the initial plan “fell apart near the actual shoot.” He was out to dinner with Kitaen when video director Marty Callner phoned him. He told the frontman, “You have to stop by; we have problems.”
So, the couple dropped by Callner’s house on the way to dinner, and when he opened the door, “his jaw hit the floor.” That’s when Callner exclaimed, “That’s her! She’s the Whitesnake woman!” Coverdale recalled saying to him, “Marty, this is a friend of mine. She’s an actress.” But Kitaen cut him off and said, “No, David, I’m happy to do it!”
A year before her death, Kitaen recounted the story in an interview with the Ouch, You’re on My Hair podcast. She explained how on the night before the shoot, she and Coverdale went to Callner’s Bel Air mansion to have him tell her – without even a “hello” – that she was the one for the part.
“And I was already an actress. I had turned down a couple of bands for not being in their video because I was an actress… I’m not gonna do a rock video. Are you kidding?” That was her mentality at the time.
However, since she was dating Coverdale, she thought, “All right, I’ve already helped my boyfriend on all the Ratt album covers, why can’t I help my boyfriend in his videos?” (For those who don’t know, Kitaen had previously dated Ratt guitarist Robbin Crosby.)
Just before the release of Here We Go Again, Coverdale was in massive debt and unsure of his path moving forward. “I thought I was done,” Coverdale told UCR in 2017. Luckily for him, the single was a major commercial success, reaching no.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The 69-year-old rockstar also recalled the intense attention he and Kitaen received after the famed music video: “Once that huge kind of ’Snake mania was going on over here, Tawny, my second wife, and I, we couldn’t go anywhere without being mobbed. We were chased down Sunset Strip in my white Jag.”
Kitaen and Coverdale married in 1989 but divorced just two years later. One of the reasons behind their split was substance abuse. “David and I, when we were married, I quit smoking, and he continued,” Kitaen said in an interview with Just a Rock ‘N’ Roll Junkie in 2015. “It would be snowing in Tahoe, and I’d say, ‘Not in the house.’”
In the same interview, she admitted that after their split, they didn’t keep in touch, and although it had been years since they communicated, she still considers him to have “the best rock and roll voice ever.” That was in 2015…
In 2019, one of her vlogs saw her call her first husband a “pain in the butt” and a “narcissistic idiot” – a man she accused of using her to get famous. When she passed away, Coverdale shared a heartfelt tweet: “Just woke up to some very sad, unexpected news…Waiting on confirmation…but, if it is true, my sincere condolences to her children, her family, friends & fans…”
For Seinfeld fans, Kitaen’s appearance in the 1991 episode “The Nose Job” is unforgettable. What many people don’t know is that Kitaen and Jerry Seinfeld actually dated off the set. A few years before her death, the 59-year-old shared intimate details of her relationship with Seinfeld.
Seinfeld was apparently so smitten with the actress that he told his close friend Mike Costanza (the inspiration for George Costanza) that being with her was “like being in the presence of greatness.” For Seinfeld, she was unlike any other woman he had ever pursued. But it looks like it wasn’t a mutual feeling…
Before Seinfeld, Kitaen was involved in an affair with O.J. Simpson (while he was married to Nicole Brown) and dated Tommy Lee (before he married Pamela Anderson). By the time she started dating Seinfeld in the early ‘90s, she was playing Mona Loveland on the popular sitcom, The New WKRP in Cincinnati.
She met the comedian on the Studio City lot, where both shows were being filmed. The sets, Seinfeld’s office, the dressing room trailers – they were all within 60 feet of each other. “How fortunate is that – to have your office right next door to your boyfriend’s?” Kitaen said at the time.
They would see each other every day; they started talking, and he invited her to appear on his show. She was then cast on the “Nose Job” episode where she played Jerry’s new girlfriend – a beautiful but dull model named Isabel, with whom he became infatuated.
It was the episode where Jerry’s brain (and manhood) were depicted playing a game of chess – the winner decided whether he should continue sleeping with her. According to Kitaen, after the episode was filmed, she and Seinfeld started dating seriously, but they played it off innocently at the studio.
Kitaen recalled that they needed to be low-key because “people were always watching.” They would be on the lot and say, “Hello, how are you doing today?” to each other. But it came to the point where they said, “What the hell are we doing?” and would hug and hold hands.
Seinfeld was so excited about his relationship with the actress that he let the cat out of the bag during an appearance on Howard Stern’s radio show. But it was without her consent. Obviously, the media had a field day over it.
“Jerry wasn’t afraid of telling anybody,” Kitaen said. An article in The Enquirer – about the two of them – made him “giddy,” Kitaen revealed. He even called his mother to say, “Look at me and Tawny, we’re in The Enquirer!”
As their relationship progressed, he would send her love notes and bouquets of flowers. She would walk by his glass-walled corner office, catch his eye and “do something silly and sexy.” On the weekends, they would drive up the coast and stay at the Biltmore in Santa Barbara. She remembered him being so tired on the drives back that she had to drive him home.
Although Seinfeld was one of the biggest shows on TV, and the comedian was quickly becoming a multimillionaire, he was cheap when it came to giving her gifts, she confessed. For instance, he gave her a teddy bear and a Coach leather purse.
This was a man who drove to the studio lot each day in a different Porsche from his mansion. “Jerry had nothing else to really spend his money on. He was just amazed that he could buy so many tennis shoes and Porsches. He was like, “Wow, I can do this. Cool!” Kitaen described.
According to her, Seinfeld wasn’t the kind of guy “who wore a gold Rolex with his left arm out the window of his Porsche, saying, “Hey, Baby.” If he were, she wouldn’t have spent a second with him. Seinfeld also learned a thing or two about Kitaen – like how she was nothing like her public bimbo image.
She had a head on her shoulders. That, and the fact that Kitaen was raised as a Jew, appealed to Seinfeld. Kitaen’s family also came from Ellis Island to San Diego, which “was important for Jerry.” Still, he never asked her to move in with him.
Kitaen described Seinfeld as a “gorgeous, extremely attractive man,” but that she definitely didn’t go out with him because he was a lover like Tommy Lee (her ex-boyfriend). And she also said she didn’t stay with Lee “because he wasn’t exactly a Jerry Seinfeld.”
Her relationship with Seinfeld lasted about a year and ended when she learned she was pregnant. There was even a period of time where she thought the baby could be his. But he wasn’t the baby daddy – her past boyfriend Chuck Finley was. That’s right – Kitaen was secretly seeing him behind Seinfeld’s back.
During one of their weekends in Santa Barbara, Finley called and left a message for Kitaen. The next weekend, she flew to Seattle to be with him. A month later, she was pregnant. She believed Seinfeld would be “devastated” when she fessed up.
On the contrary, Seinfeld didn’t seem to care; he gave her a big hug and told her that “he was happy that I was happy.” He wasn’t too upset because he earned enough fame to have girls line up to give him their numbers. He came a long way from a young man who couldn’t get a date.
Kitaen and Finley married six years after her divorce from Coverdale. She and the MLB pitcher went on to have two daughters, Wynter and Raine, before divorcing in 2002. After which, they endured some legal disputes.
There was a domestic violence arrest – and it wasn’t Finley who got cuffed. Kitaen was taken into custody after physically assaulting her then-husband inside their car. According to ESPN, she attacked him with her high-heel shoes as they drove home from dinner. Three days later, he filed for divorce. Although the charges were dismissed after she agreed to undergo counseling and avoid contact with him, their marriage was already in the gutter.
The altercation was really just the last straw. In a declaration to the Orange County Superior Court, Kitaen claimed that Finley was using steroids and other drugs. She also stated that Finley had bragged about being bulletproof to the baseball league’s testing policy.
But Kitaen wasn’t clean – she also used drugs (marijuana and alcohol). After a messy divorce in 2002, during a game against the Chicago White Sox, the stadium’s music director took a shot at him by playing Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again. Hilarious? Yes. But the man was later fired, and the White Sox apologized to Finley.
That September, Kitaen settled the case, and the charges against her were dropped after she completed a full year of counseling. Her career had obviously hit a lull as a result of her headline-making relationship issues, but she made a comeback by appearing on a reality TV show in 2006.
She joined the cast of The Surreal Life for its 6th season. The show is basically about a bunch of once-famous celebrities (aka “has-beens”) living together under one roof. Kitaen’s co-stars included Florence Henderson, American Idol contestant Corey Clark, and others. Soon enough, Kitaen was imprisoned for cocaine ownership.
In 2008, Kitaen joined the second season of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew as someone who was addicted to cocaine as well as painkillers (Demerol and Vicodin). After that season, Kitaen was one of the only cast members to refuse to move into the transitional sober living home, which was filmed for the series’ spinoff, Sober House.
The following year, she was arrested for DUI. Other cast members from Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, who passed away after appearing on the show, include “Chyna” Laurer in 2016, Mindy McCready, Joey Kovar and Mike Starr.
Kitaen later appeared on Botched.
Again, the charges were dismissed once she completed a six-month rehab program. A year later, Kitaen started her own legal battle, filing a suit against a former boyfriend, claiming he scammed her out of $3 million. The pair finally settled in 2009.
Speaking of ex-boyfriends, one of her most high-profile relationships was with the one and only O.J. Simpson. Their relationship was scandalous on many levels, but the part that stands out the most is the fact that they saw each other while Simpson was still married to Nicole Brown.
Sources claim that Kitaen had a long and flaming fling with the football player turned accused murderer. According to one of Kitaen’s friends, “It didn’t matter at all to her that he was married. She told me that made it more exciting!”
She would come to his games, and he would shower her with gifts (unlike Seinfeld). There were even times when he would put Kitaen on one floor of his hotel while he and Nicole were on another. It was only a matter of time until Nicole discovered her husband’s late-night encounters. And the way it happened was a major blow…
Nicole found a jewelry box in Simpson’s bureau with earrings worth at least $25,000. Naturally, she thought they were for her (it was the day before her birthday), so she just put them back in the drawer rather than spoil the surprise.
But her birthday came and went, and no diamonds were handed to her. She mentioned the mystery to the wife of OJ’s golfing buddy. Shocked, the woman whispered to Nicole: “Don’t you know? He gave them to Tawny Kitaen. We thought you allowed him to have a mistress!” She didn’t, though…
Kitaen died on May 7, 2021, at her home in Newport Beach, California, yet the official cause of death has not been reported (as of June 2021). She was 59 years old. According to investigators, no foul play has been suspected in her death. Apparently, she was working on a memoir.
The police told the family that there was nothing at the scene suggesting drugs, pills, or alcohol were a factor in her death. There weren’t any signs that Kitaen took her own life, either. Kitaen’s brother, Jordan Kitaen, stated that he believes a prior death in the family played a part in his sister’s passing.
He told TMZ that their father died weeks earlier, on April 12, after suffering a long battle with skin cancer. The way Jordan sees it, the death was “too much for Tawny’s system to handle.” Their father’s funeral was only days before she passed.
Jordan said his sister was “in a good place” prior to her passing. He thinks she died of a broken heart. Tawny – the eldest of the siblings – had an “uncanny connection” with their father. Jordan also doesn’t think that drugs were involved in her death, despite her history with drug-related issues.
A mere matter of weeks before her death, Kitaen made the shocking revelation that she was once romanced by Harvey Weinstein. She appeared on the podcast The Velvet Rope two weeks before she died, in which she opened up about her former affairs and flings with other celebrities.
Among the men she mentioned was the disgraced Hollywood filmmaker, who is currently serving his 22-year prison sentence. Dropping this bombshell of a revelation was something Kitaen said she was saving for the memoir that she was working on. This podcast interview was her way of sharing some never-before-heard details about being pursued by the convicted rapist.
Kitaen admitted that she never witnessed the predatory behavior that many women accused him of, which is why she considered herself “lucky.” In her own words: “There was a guy who was chasing after me. He really wanted to date me and was very persistent. I dated him for a little while. Nothing ever happened. He was a complete gentleman.”
That man was Weinstein. Kitaen recalled going to dinner with him “every night” until she fell ill with pneumonia and was hospitalized. Weinstein would deliver her food to her hospital bed. He would bring her food, sit with her in the hospital room, and they would “chat.”
Kitaen’s theory was that she didn’t endure the “horrific” ways the man treated other women who testified against him because it seemed as though he wanted a “serious” relationship with her. Once the Me Too movement began, Kitaen said she was in utter shock.
“I was completely blown away… And disgusted. It frightened me.” She revealed that she was romanced by him for nearly two months. Why did it end? Apparently, Kitaen has a “three-month rule.” The video vixen proudly stated that she “never had a one-night stand.” She was asked what would have happened if she didn’t have this rule. “God knows,” she replied.
The ‘80s was an era when MTV could make or break music artists. One of the network’s biggest success stories was undoubtedly Whitesnake and their popular music video for Here I Go Again. “It’s an old song that I wrote about the breakdown of my first marriage,” Coverdale said of the song.
He explained that he had rented a villa in the Algarve (the southern coast of Portugal) with his young daughter and wife. He and his wife ended up sleeping in separate rooms. “We just went from being the best of friends to not being the best of friends. And Here I Go Again was about that.”
“MTV took over the world, and Whitesnake became a global entity,” Coverdale added. He recalled how whichever hotel he would check into, the TV in the room would be on (for the housekeepers) and it would usually be on MTV, and more often than not, the video for Here I Go Again was on.
There she was – Tawny Kitaen doing cartwheels on Jaguars. For a time, Coverdale thought, “Oh my God, we’re so over-exposed.” He said he considers himself “old-school.” But if he wanted to succeed in this, “you have to embrace a multitude of sins — as long as they don’t compromise your integrity or who you are,” he justified.
Coverdale revealed that he brought Paula Abdul to the shoot to go over the moves with Kitaen. Abdul told him, “I can’t show her anything, David.” Everyone takes credit for the moves Kitaen did in the video.
As Coverdale recalls, they were improvising on the spot. “It was so unusual to have a woman in a beautiful dress, doing cartwheels from a black Jag to a white Jag. It was fascinating.” So, why does Coverdale think the video remains so iconic? “F**k, I don’t know. If I knew the answer to that, every video I produced would be iconic!”